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Castillo, Leopards ready to break into open

He has help in the Wing-T and the focus is on cutting turnovers.

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- If defenses thought Jagren Castillo was tough to stop last season, they better be even more prepared.

After finishing second in the county with 697 rushing yards, the junior fullback has the benefit of a problem-free offseason, a new backfield mate and an offense designed to fit his strengths.

Now, he's reaching for even higher goals.

"I want to be the leading rusher in the county and hopefully make all-conference," Castillo said.

He missed all of fall practice last year after suffering second-and third-degree burns from a gasoline fire he helped set.

He was eased into the lineup until injuries to Art Starks, Rod Roberts and Trevor Coleman forced him into full-time duty.

"He was thrown into the fire last year," coach Bill Browning said. "Summer set him back physically, but he's caught up now and he's much stronger than last year."

Though injuries got most of the attention, Browning said turnovers due to an inexperienced backfield were the biggest factor in a 3-7 record.

The Leopards averaged 188.1 rushing yards per game -- slightly up from 2000, when they had Central Florida-bound Dee Brown in the backfield -- but turned the ball over 41 times, including 27 fumbles.

"We moved the football pretty well, but the turnovers really killed us," Browning said. "We're concentrating on limiting our turnovers."

The Leopards also installed a new offense.

After using some Wing-T and run-and-shoot in past years, Hernando switched from the multiple offense to a Wing-T.

"I think it better fits our personnel right now," Browning said. "It plays to our quarterbacks' strengths better and our running backs' strengths better."

Quarterbacks Brad Wyatt, Antonio Brown and Heath Hensley have running ability and might carry the ball as often as they throw it this year.

Castillo is a slashing runner with good speed. Roberts, who returns from a torn meniscus, is agile and spins off defenders.

"We work real good together," said Roberts, Castillo's cousin. "I can't think of a better combination."

Starks will be brought back slowly from what was feared to be a career-ending knee injury. He is expected to start the season on defense and gradually work his way back into the offense.

Browning asks only two things of his backs: that they run hard and hold on to the football.

"If they do that and we get any kind of line play, we'll be able to move the ball," he said.

HERNANDO LEOPARDS

Directions

TOM FISHER STADIUM: 200 E. Kelly Street, Brooksville. From U.S. 41 north of Brooksville, turn right on Howell Avenue, stadium will be on the left, about one mile. From U.S. 41 south of Brooksville, turn left onto Main Street at the old courthouse; Main turns into Howell; stadium will be on the right, about one mile. From U.S. 98 north of Brooksville, turn left on North Avenue to Howell. From State Road 50 west of Brooksville, turn left on U.S. 98 and right on North Avenue to Howell.

LEOPARDS PLAYBOOK

OFFENSE: Run-and-shoot, Wing-T, multiple -- name an offense and chances are coach Bill Browning has tried it at Hernando. The Leopards return to the Wing-T this season to take advantage of a bevy of talented runners that includes fullback Jagren Castillo, halfback Rod Roberts and quarterbacks Brad Wyatt, Antonio Brown and Heath Hensley. The key to the offense is deception, and with so many weapons, it should be difficult for opponents to determine who has the ball on any given play. Just as important as who has the ball, however, is how well he holds onto it. The Leopards fumbled 27 times last season.

DEFENSE: Hernando lost one of the centerpieces of its Split 4 when linebacker Bryan Hall, who had 78 tackles last season, transferred to Pasco. But tackle is where the Leopards are most unsettled. At presstime, sophomores John Washington, Windham Rotunda and Eric Neal and seniors Jesse Cooper, Steve Maxey and D.L. Brown were competing at the two spots. Hernando started several sophomores last season and it showed, as the Leopards allowed 35 or more points four times. One who shined was linebacker Andres Lawson, whose 96 tackles led the county.

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